Last Friday while eating breakfast, a friend texted me: “I just saw the city putting all of Crenshaw Cowboy’s art in garbage trucks.”
Lovell Moore, a homeless man lovingly known as the “Crenshaw Cowboy,” has occupied the same street corner for around 10 years. You’ve probably seen him working on his sculptures, or performing on the corner of the 10 west on-ramp on Crenshaw. He started a decade ago by entertaining and dancing on the corner, treating it like a job; he’s a self-proclaimed entertainer. Soon, he began installing signs with uplifting text, alongside found-object sculptures. He is an L.A. staple, and a quick Google search will reveal Facebook and Instagram accounts dedicated to him, and mini-documentaries that fans have made over the years.
By the time I arrived to the corner, not an hour after my friend’s text, Moore’s usual installation — an array of stuffed toys, car parts, metal scraps and disassembled tools — was cleared away. All that remained was a button-up shirt, printed with an American flag pattern, dangling from a fence, and trace amounts of glitter smattered across the pavement. Chelo Ortega, the manager at the American Car Wash next door, explained that the city had just come through and cleared everything away. “I always told him to just put a little, otherwise someone would take notice,” Ortega explained. The car wash shares a fence with the Cowboy’s corner, and the staff there has taken to him, regularly offering him water, towels or cans of soda.
Moore — who also had bits of multicolored glitter on his face — was pacing the corner, and proved eager to talk about what had just happened. He explained to me that this isn’t the first time the authorities have cleared his corner. People have complained that the stuff is too bulky and they can’t see the freeway, Moore explained. Yet, despite just having had all of his possessions and artworks taken from him, Moore’s outlook was positive.
“The creative mind, no matter what happens — your creations are stolen, hauled away, whatever — you really don’t get disappointed because in your creative mind you know you can create better.” Moore explained. “Because what you’ve seen over the years is just the tip of the iceberg. Under the surface, there’s so much. I’m still going to be here supporting the people and inspiring them to go into their own creative mind.”
When he first came to Los Angeles from North Carolina, Moore used to take long walks, always pausing on this corner. This particular corner, flanked by a freeway on-ramp and a busy intersection, sits in the crosshairs of the Hollywood Hills, Baldwin Hills, downtown and the Pacific Ocean. “People from all over the world come through this corner,” he says. He feels as if it’s the city’s center.
Recently, a woman offered to buy one of Moore’s sculptures, but the sale never went through. A number of Moore’s signs were included (and sold) in the recent exhibition “Concrete Island” at Venus Over Los Angeles, a contemporary art gallery in Boyle Heights.
“I had a 'for sale' sign for some of the sculptures, and it didn’t follow through because of what happened,” Moore said of the artwork that was cleared away from the side of the road. “[Selling] the sculptures would have given me resources to become better. I still have a book that I want to put out.”
The subtext for this incident is the subjectivity of value. What the authorities decided was trash (and potentially a hazard to passing cars), others saw as valuable artwork. Selling his work is a relatively new prospect and one he's been encouraged by. It also might have been what caught the attention of the authorities.
It’s unclear whether L.A. sanitation was behind the clearing; both the California Highway Patrol and the LAPD have said their departments were not involved, although eyewitnesses reported that law enforcement officers were on the scene when the sculptures were removed.
Moore’s capacity to look beyond his current circumstance is vast. He believes that every culture — every individual — has been through traumatic experiences, but he tries to never look back: “To hell with the past. The past is gone; keep on moving toward the future. There is hope. There’s always going to be hope.”
Still, Moore was disappointed in the morning’s events, saying that he wished he'd been given notice. “Police, you know, they’re programmed servants,” he said, doing a robotic arm gesture. “But they’re just doing their job. And in a country, you have to abide by laws.” While Moore admits to being upset to see all of his artwork go, he’d rather keep moving than dwell on what's been lost. He describes creative ideas as a floodgate, an untapped reservoir.
“So why get upset when you know that the next thing is going to be better than the thing before? I’m still going to be supportive for people. Even though they trashed everything, the creative mind never gets disappointed ’cause you can … stand back a little bit …”
With that, Moore pulled out the one object that the authorities did not confiscate, his guitar, and performed a dance, which ended with a spin move, a “hang 10” hand gesture and a smile. One of the workers at the gas station came to check on him, and offered both of us a Coke.
I asked Moore if he felt that the morning’s events were a problem or an opportunity. Moore thought for a second, then looked me dead in the eyes. “Opportunity. I’m not going to get discouraged. It’s over with, it’s done. You always gotta have a sense of humor. No matter what you have. Endure it with a grin. There’s a thing called karma, and it’s going to come back.”
As we spoke, Moore pulled out jokes, Bible parables and quotes from literature to help prove his points. He speaks like a prophet — with a message to remind humanity of the powers within each of us. “I have a job: to entertain. I’m going to be out here spinning the guitar. Never let ’em see you sweat. I’m an entertainer. I’m not going to reflect that I’m discouraged, and my craft is going to get better. I’ll be able to moonwalk on my head now.”
A few days later I drove past the Cowboy’s corner, and sure enough, new signs and sculptures are already beginning to take shape.